By Elena Maria Edokpolor Pernia
“I believe Black History Month to be important as it allows a light to be shed on the forgotten history of the Black community globally and educates not only Black people of their ancestors overlooked contributions to society but people from all different backgrounds” – Persia Armstrong-Russell
As part of Black History Month 2021, the University of Roehampton Sport and Active Communities department are spotlighting leading black figures in university sport who have excelled in their fields. In this interview, we catch up with Munirah Abdiwahid, professional Taekwondo athlete.
Full Interview with Munirah
Elena: Hello everyone, my name is Elena, I work for Sport and Active Communities here at the University of Roehampton and I am interviewing Munirah Abdiwahid today. Do you want to tell everyone a bit about yourself?
Munirah: Hi, my name is Munirah, I am 19 years old and I am a 2nd year Criminology student at the University of Roehampton. I am also a professional Taekwondo athlete representing my home country of Somalia.
Elena: I wanted to mention that I have done some research and found your Instagram and I wanted to say that it is very inclusive and encouraging. And I just wanted to ask how important has social media been for spreading awareness of women involvement in sport?
Munirah: Firstly, thank you and secondly, social media is quite a big thing for me, like Instagram and TikTok because it can connect me with other girls that look like me but are too scared to get into martial arts, and maybe don’t know how to get into it. So, it helps me interact with them and show them: “I’ve done it, so you can do it too”. It is also a way of meeting different people because social media is all around the world, so its quite cool to meet different people.
Elena: How have you managed to combine a full-time university degree and training at an elite level?
Munirah: Well, I’m not going to lie, it hasn’t been easy. It is quite difficult but its very much how you manage your time and how organised you are. So for me it would be my timetable. So when I am training and when I’m studying I do have to sacrifice things like friends, going out and having fun. But at the long term for me, that’s going to be better and will provide fruitful results. I’m thinking more about the future when I’m putting them together. Because I want a degree and continue my sport professionally.
Elena: What do you love about the sport of Taekwondo and why do you think more women and girls should try it?
Munirah: For me, Taekwondo is a sport that I have done my whole life so it’s part of me. I started when I was 6 years old and its quite different from other martial arts in that it involves more legs and it is quite technical and nice to watch, sometimes. But yes, I just find it fun and since I have done it for such a long time, it has become a part of me.
Elena: There are many factors that contribute to barriers towards physical sports and activity, whether it be social or economic. This is reflected through statistics that show that only 38.3% of black children and young adults between the ages of 5–16 in England are active. So, I wanted to ask you, what barriers or challenges, if any, have you faced on your journey to where you are today?
Munirah: I don’t think I have faced big barriers within my sport, but maybe minor things, like getting told off for having my hair too high during competitions. Apart from that, because of my club and the community that I am a part of and the girls that I trained with when I was little, I didn’t face any barriers because I was aware of things before it happened to me. I already knew how to overcome it because of the girls I trained with had done it before me. So, not that many.
Elena: What can organisations do to support more women and girls to be active particularly those from ethnic groups and communities?
Munirah: Within communities, maybe provide free sessions of martial arts or some sort of sport to get everyone together. Creating more community based sessions. And for women, maybe providing women only classes because some women don’t feel comfortable in mixed environments, so they would want to attend if they knew only ladies were participating. I’d also say if they want to reach more minorities and women in martial arts and sports, use social media! Social media is big and it will influence and reach a lot of people.
Elena: And do you think the university is doing things similar to the examples you’ve just described?
Munirah: Yes, I think Roehampton have been very supportive and they do do a lot of sports and societies that allow people to get involved and they use social media a lot so the connections are there, so you are always aware of things to do and where to go to. So they are doing a great job.
Elena: If there was a female watching right now or a black female in particular, what advice or what would you say to them if they are either struggling to get into physical activity or they are just apprehensive about doing it because they are nervous, what advice would you give to them?
Munirah: I’d say just jump and take that risk because you never know how things will go until you actually go for it. As I said, there are so many girls like you that you wouldn’t be aware of, that have done it, like myself, that have started sport, which is why I use social media so girls can see that if others can do it so can they. It will be nerve wracking and scary, but in due time you will love it.
Elena: How has the pandemic affected you and were you able to continue to exercise or did you find this difficult?
Munirah: During the pandemic and lockdown, things were very difficult for me because I trained quite a lot, I used to train 6 days a week before lockdown and I was training quite intensively. So to get back into it after lockdown was tricky. During lockdown it was hard because, although I had family support, I didn’t have my team mates to provide support, banter and the push from your coach. So it required a lot of self-motivation.
Elena: I can imagine, even I needed that to keep myself active during the pandemic. This may not be sport related, but I think it’s a really problematic topic at the moment and certainly one that we are talking about as a university, and it is about the term BAME. There is a lot of discussion about why it is problematic and thought to be politically incorrect to use this term. What are your thoughts on the term? Do you think it’s something that should still be used in certain situations because it’s relevant or do you think it’s problematic?
Munirah: I think it is not very necessary to be using that term, because you are labelling one group, when we are all humans and we are all one. We are trying to get out of that time of separating races into categories. So I think it’s not the greatest term to use.
Elena: How important would you say role models and leaders are in supporting sport participation and who would you say has inspired you? Is representation important?
Munirah: I would say it depends on the person. Some people get inspired from watching an athlete on TV and be like: “Oh! That’s cool, I want to do that!”. So like my older brother for example, he watched a few karate movies and was like “Yeah, I want to do that!”. It depends on the person. Some people get influenced and have role models that inspire them to do the sport. For me, it would be more family based, like my mum and older cousin. They were the strong women in my family so when I started doing Taekwondo and I saw them I thought to myself “I want to improve because I want to be like them, strong and determined. Having that same mindset”. For me it was about mindset.
Elena: And just lastly, what are your targets for the future in Taekwondo?
Munirah: Well, I have a lot, but the main target is the Olympics in Paris 2024. I am preparing for now but the ones before that would be African Championships, World Championships and International competitions that I want to do well in before the Olympics.
Elena: Well, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview.
Munirah: Thank you for having me.